The Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for patent holders to win extra damages in infringement lawsuits. The justices upended a lower court’s standard that made it difficult for prevailing patent holders to win so-called treble damages—which amount to actual monetary damages multiplied by three.
The unanimous opinion (PDF) by Chief Justice John Roberts said the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals, had set too rigid of a test under the Patent Act to determine whether a losing company’s infringement was willful. Prevailing parties can get punitive damages if infringement is deemed willful.
The court noted that the law in question simply says that a judge “may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.” The Supreme Court on Monday noted that, after nearly two centuries, the bar has been raised—making it more difficult to win treble damages. Those special damages have wrongly become “reserved for egregious cases of culpable behavior.” The chief justice said that the “principal problem” with the test the courts have glommed onto is that “it requires a finding of objective recklessness in every case.”